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BYU batters go wild in comeback victory over Utah

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BYU pitcher Cutter Clawson yells

BYU pitcher Cutter Clawson (8) celebrates after a strikeout ends the bottom of the eighth with two Utah runners on base and the game tied at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 9, 2023.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

BYU taught Utah a lesson about not giving up Tuesday night in the season finale of the three-game series between the two baseball teams Tuesday night.

The contest started with as many as 2,500 fans in the stands at Smith’s Ballpark, and the Utes seemingly had the game in hand, but BYU rallied with 10 runs in the final two innings to capture a 13-7 non-conference victory.

As the weather cooled, much of the crowd left with Utah in control. Utes coach Gary Henderson admitted he felt comfortable when his team took a 7-3 lead in the sixth inning and had two of their top pitchers ready to take the field.

But Ryan Sepede singled off the Utes’ Zac McCleve, and the next four BYU hitters also reached base, which allowed the Cougars to rally to tie the game. A double-play ball kept things from getting worse.

Then BYU’s Cole Gambill led off the top of the ninth inning with a solo homer, and that started another offensive barrage for the Cougars, who seized the momentum and turned the contest into a rout. The next eight hitters faced the Utes’ top reliever, Micah Ashman, who came in with a shiny 2.48 earned-run average — and six of them got aboard. 

Cooper Vest, Dawsen Hall, Easton Jones, Ozzie Pratt and Parker Goff each made it look easy, most of whom had run-scoring singles.

In the end, BYU finished with 16 hits, which had to be a surprise for the many fans who left early on a school night and may be discovering here for the first time that the game had gone a different way than expected.

“It was contagious,” said BYU coach Trent Pratt. “We kept fighting. The guys on the bench were ready to go. Sometimes you have those nights when things go your way. We’ll celebrate it (tonight) and then get ready for our next game.”

Celebrations have not happened as frequently as Pratt would like so far, but the Cougars salvaged the rubber match to win the season series and improve their record to 20-26. The schedule still includes three games at West Coast Conference foe Pacific starting Thursday before BYU ends its regular season at home against Pepperdine.

Utah must rally more quickly. The Utes play host to New Mexico State at Smith’s Ballpark Wednesday, then continue their stretch of non-league games at home against Cal Poly. The Utes fell to 19-27-1, even though this game was in their grasp.

Jayden Kiernan had four hits, and the Utes’ pitching staff that threw the middle innings — Merit Jones, Branson Kuehl and Bryson Van Sickle — held BYU in check. After the Cougars took a 2-1 lead, the Utes eventually took the lead when BYU’s hitters went down in order in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. 

Kuehl and Van Sickle were particularly impressive. They notched many of the 15 strikeouts recorded, and would have likely been the heroes if BYU hadn’t found its offensive attack later.

Henderson, a longtime pitching coach who has been trying to build depth on the Utes’ young staff, said he saw many positives.

“It’s a powerful loss, but we had 15 strikeouts, with just three walks … I’ll take that,” he said. “We just had a few guys have bad nights. We’ll try to learn from it and get better.”